We’re Still Having this Debate?
The one single refrain we’ve heard (especially from Broderists) over the last few years when it comes to those who claim nothing should be done about Bush-era “enhanced interrogation techniques” is that prosecutions or a tribunal would prove to be too divisive and distracting for our country. At root, this argument only makes sense if there’s some question as to whether “enhanced interrogation techniques” constitute torture – there’s no dispute that the “techniques” were used, and with the possible exception of President Bush himself, there’s not much dispute as to who was involved in authorizing the use of those techniques. If everyone agrees that those techniques were illegal and torture, then what could possibly be divisive about prosecuting someone who acknowledges committing an illegal, unconstitutional, and unconscionable act?
In other words, the “too divisive” argument against prosecution hinges entirely on the notion that it would be “too divisive or distracting” for us to conduct trials or tribunals aimed at determining, once and for all, whether “enhanced interrogation techniques” are torture. To be sure, this argument is pretty weak to begin with. But it also assumes that a failure to prosecute will not be divisive or distracting, that if we ignore the issue, it will just go away.
It has now been almost four and a half years since the legality and morality of “enhanced interrogation techniques,” and specifically waterboarding first entered the public eye. Yet we’re still having the debate. Four and a half years of debating one simple question that could be answered in a short trial. Whatever the results of such a trial, how long would it take for everyone to get on with their lives and for our public discourse to begin to focus on other issues? In our 24-hour news cycle, ADD culture? A few months? A few weeks? Even a few days? But certainly not four and a half years.
Would such prosecutions really tear the fabric of our country asunder so desperately as to endanger the Republic or at least cause even more long-term problems (which is to say almost none) than impeaching a sitting President for lying in a private capacity lawsuit about sex did? I rather doubt it. But certainly, ripping the band-aid off at once is generally preferable to slowly peeling it off, which is what we’ve been doing, and continue to do.
These techniques, allegedly, are no longer in use. The only potential long-lasting national impact from a finding that the techniques are torture is that there will be zero possibility that they will be brought back, as opposed to a minimal possibility that they will. But without any finding, we just seem to keep revisiting the question, continuing to use it as a wedge, and failing to advance our public discourse at all. Prosecute them and be done with it, whatever the results. The country will survive. No, really, it will.